Sébastien Ogier found himself in the unusual situation of being swept aside by his team-mate Ott Tänak, mostly as a consequence of having to sweep aside the loose gravel of Rally Italy‘s dusty stages. While he failed to trouble the podium positions, the championship leader was pragmatic about his fifth place finish, looking at the positives of mitigating the points lost to chief title rival Thierry Neuville.
As championship leader, Ogier was the first car to tackle Friday’s stages, an unwanted privilege which left him languishing in seventh place at the end of the first full day of action. Combined with a puncture on Saturday, it left the M-Sport Ford driver struggling to scrape together a good result.
“Considering our position as championship leaders, we were expecting Sardinia to be a difficult rally and so it proved to be,” he said. “On these roads, sweeping is a big issue and the conditions change enormously as the cars drive through, so our starting order put us in an awkward position throughout the weekend.
“In the end the feat of overcoming this road-sweeping handicap proved to be too much. We struggled to find the performance we wanted. At the wheel I felt there was a lack of traction and especially grip when braking.”
The final day saw some small positives alleviate the damage done earlier in the rally. Ogier pounced on an opportunity for fifth presented to him by the failing power steering system on Juho Hänninen‘s Toyota. The Frenchman essentially took five extra points in the final stage, sending Hänninen down to sixth whilst securing the third fastest time in the powerstage rankings. This mitigated his losses to Neuville to only four points, a result he was happy with given the circumstances.
“In view of the road conditions and the way the weekend progressed generally, we can take satisfaction from the points we scored,” he reflected. “The gap between the top four places in the championship closed a bit more this weekend and the title will surely be between the four of us [Neuville, Tänak & Jari-Matti Latvala]. With such small differences every point becomes important, and we’ve only lost four on our nearest rival, which is not too bad.”
Ultimately, while the result in itself was disappointing, a cursory glance at the championship standings shows Ogier still holding a reasonably healthy lead, which has given him reassurance, even if some of his performances this year have lacked the winning consistency of previous seasons.
“We must keep on working because in the last three rallies our performance has been up and down. All the same, it’s very positive to be leading the championship halfway through the season and with an 18-point lead at that. We’re going to keep on defending that position at all costs!”
While Neuville is his nearest challenger, strong finishes in Italy for Tänak and Latvala mean they are now 33 and 34 points behind respectively, with six events and 180 points remaining to collect.